March 24, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
The first day of spring football practice was, as always, a little less about football than knocking off rust and running around with helmets on as those were the only pads Georgia Tech’s Yellow Jackets wore on Monday.
It was not too early, however, to apply thought to what the future will hold for coach Paul Johnson’s seventh team on The Flats.
There are several questions to be answered along both lines of scrimmage, some sorting to do in the secondary and more, yet nothing will command attention for the next few weeks and through summer practice like the quarterback position.
Vad Lee is at James Madison now, last year’s starter having determined that the Tech offense is not a fit for him.
So, redshirt sophomore Justin Thomas took center stage after a couple hours of running around and with cameras rolling and recorders open the leading quarterback in the clubhouse suggested that it’s business as usual.
“I’m just trying to show that I can be a leader . . . go out there and try to take charge,” said the 5-foot-11, 185-pound, cat-quick native of Prattville, Ala. “There’s no pressure, just act the same as I have.”
That part seems on the mark.
Thomas is not a big talker, not one to seek the glare of a camera nor one to try and avoid it. He just seems to be.
He has an easy smile much of the time.
Johnson’s less interested in that than he is finding out whether Thomas can run the nuanced Tech offense more effectively than it was run last season.
At a quick glance, Thomas’ quickness is more in line with many of Johnson’s past trigger men. His decision-making abilities will, however, be perhaps most important.
There is a relatively small game sample size to look at with Thomas. Although he appeared in 10 games last season, his action was limited on a game-by-game basis.
As he rushed 33 times for 234 yards and two scores, it was pretty easy to see that if he gets just a little daylight, Thomas is capable of going a long way.
Yet as a passer, it’s much too early to know much.
Thomas threw 17 passes last season, and completed nine. That by itself is pretty good, but two tosses were intercepted while one resulted in a score.
He’s an athlete. At one time he was committed to Alabama, but as Tide coach Nick Saban was not interested in him as a quarterback, he changed his allegiance to Tech.
He’s not a lock to be the man come fall. Junior Tim Byerly, a Chattahoochee High graduate who first went to Middle Tennessee State before transferring back near home, offered a few glimpses last season as well.
At 6-feet, 215 pounds, he’s not the speedster that Thomas is; he’s more of a plower. He runs hard, with 18 carries, 119 yards and two touchdowns to his credit last fall. Byerly completed one of his four passes so there’s less evidence there.
“We’ve got four guys that are out there competing, and certainly Justin is a guy who has a lot of experience and has the upper hand,” Johnson said. “But Timmy Byerly has played some as well, and Ty Griffin and Matthew Jordan are two young freshman that we’re excited to watch . . .
“Justin has more experience, and he’s played more than the others and I would expect him to be a hard guy to beat out.”
The head coach waxed about the value of having legitimate competition not only at quarterback, but everywhere. Hopefully, there will be plenty this spring and into the summer.
There are other points of interest.
Johnson, for example, mentioned that B-back Broderick Snoddy a supreme sprinter on the track team, will get some work at A-back, which would seem a better fit for his speed.
Running back Travis Custis, who was at times monstrous while toting the rock for Lovejoy High (he rushed for 2,118 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2012) is finally on campus, and expected to land in the mix at B-back with Zach Laskey.
Custis goes 6-feet, about 207 pounds.
“I think he’s just a really good athlete,” Johnson said. “He was a great high school player. He’s quick and fast. We’re hopeful that he can transition really quickly and give us some help.”
Johnson and his assistants have a message for these players and all others: “Push yourself out of your comfort zone to get better. Don’t waste a day. You only get 15 [practices]; don’t waste any.”
Thomas appears to get it.
He’s pushing in a variety of ways.
“Just going every day, trying to get the team better,” he said. “Get out there and try to get the rust off.”
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